April 3, 2023
Feeling Lonely? You’re Not Alone.
We all crave connection. It’s a universally human experience. Not only because we’ve always relied upon social supports for survival, but because all types of connection — from the casual to the intimate — are essential to mental health, physical wellness and overall life satisfaction.
So diving into the data on loneliness is worrisome. Is it possible that more people are more lonely than ever? And if so, why is this the case?
It’s easy to blame digital technology, but what drives us to turn to our devices and apps in the first place? The fact that more collectivist cultures see lower social media use than individualistic cultures (that dominate the west) speaks volumes.
My view is that regardless of the cause, we have to take action to address the loneliness epidemic today. We can start with more smiles on the street. More hellos in local cafes. And more phone calls to loved ones with whom we’ve lost touch — without judgment.
Earlier today, I joined Jeff & Carolyn on Global TV’s The Morning Show to discuss the causes of loneliness and what we can do to combat it and offset its negative effects.
Check out the video and summary notes below.
What is loneliness and what are its costs?
Loneliness refers to the subjective experience of not feeling as connected to others as you’d like to be.
And loneliness is not only associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety, but it’s also associated with an increase in premature death — a risk that can rival smoking or physical inactivity.
Has loneliness increased since the onset of the pandemic?
One recent study found that 58% consider themselves lonely; this is in line with pre pandemic data from 2019 that suggested that 61% of us feel lonely. We went out of our way to connect during the pandemic, but we’re now falling into our old ways.
You’ve seen the memes that adult friendship is saying let’s get together and then looking at dates in June. So many of us have fallen into this habit and it can be hard to break?
Is loneliness a result of more people being single?
In part, this may be true. Putting off relationships means we’re more geographically mobile. We move around more and have fewer consistent social ties, but being single doesn’t mean you’re more lonely because single folks are often more intentional about being social.
Friendships are also on the decline. In the last 30 years, we’ve seen the number of people who say they have no close friends quadrupled. And it’s a five folks increase for men according to some data.
What about that famous Bon Jovi line: “tonight, I won’t be alone, but you know that don’t mean I’m not lonely”. Can you be lonely if you’re around others?
You don’t have to be physically alone to experience loneliness.
Social isolation (measure of contacts) and loneliness (a subjective feeling) are different experiences.
If you don’t feel supported, safe and connected to the people you’re around. If you can’t be yourself or vulnerable with them, you can still suffer from loneliness.
Anxious attachment, for example, is associated with higher levels of loneliness; this has to do with emotional dependence on another and speaks to our need for multiple sources of social connectedness.
What should we do to combat loneliness?
Reach out to an old friend today. Consider a quick call, text, email, forwarded meme, FB or IG message. Don’t overthink it. Many of us don’t reach out because we feel self-conscious, but the data suggests that others are just as likely to be experiencing loneliness and will benefit from your gesture.
Making a new friend requires a considerable investment of time:
50 hours to become a casual friend
90 hours to become a friend
200 hours to become a close friend.
Renewing old friendships means tapping into old bonds.
And research shows that just one meaningful conversation can be good for your health. And if you’re hesitant to reach out when you’re feeling lonely yourself (or afraid to admit that you feel lonely in the first place), don’t be. You’re not alone. If you were dealing with a physical health issue, you’d likely speak up and ask for help, so treat your emotional well-being with similar care, as it determines your physical health — and according to the data, it too can be a matter of life and death.
Perrault, Daniel Totzkay. Quality Conversation Can Increase Daily Well-Being. Communication Research, 2023
Vigil, Jacob M. (2007). Asymmetries in the friendship preferences and social styles of men and women. Human Nature, 18, 143-161.